India: Seva Mandir, Natural Resource Restoration in Rajasthan


Founded in the 1960s, Seva Mandir (SM) is works in 626 villages of Rajasthan State to help the poor change their circumstances of deprivation. The population is largely tribal with a large dependence on natural resources, especially the local forests and water bodies. Critical problems facing these communities include degraded forests and pastures, recurrent droughts, and soil erosion that leads to widespread livelihood insecurity. Seva Mandir works with individuals, families, and communities to satisfy their basic needs, while serving as a pioneer in initiating the Joint Forest Management Program which allows local communities to initiate protection and management of state owned forests. Seva Mandir reaches some 70,000 households and approximately 360,000 people. Their restoration work emerges from intensive exploitation and deforestation and the consequent high levels of soil erosion, which has lead to a decline in productivity. Land use changes including changes in the nature of ownership and management have begun to move away from traditional resource sharing norms. The widespread exploitation and encroachment on traditionally used land has led to the work of Seva Mandir which seeks not only to restore land but also to restore communities.

Quick Facts

Project Location:
Rajasthan, India, 27.0238036, 74.21793260000004

Geographic Region:

Country or Territory:

Temperate Forest

Temperate Forest - Deciduous, Temperate Forest - Mixed, Other/Mixed

Area being restored:
3000+ Hectares

Project Lead:
Seva Mandir

Organization Type:
NGO / Nonprofit Organization


Project Stage:

Start Date:

End Date:

Primary Causes of Degradation

Agriculture & Livestock, Deforestation, Fragmentation, Other

Degradation Description

Over the last several decades the natural resource base has been under intensive exploitation which has led to large-scale deforestation along with substantial levels of soil erosion and the deterioration and general decline in productivity. Additionally, recent decades has seen demographic changes which have led many in these communities to seek out migrant labor to fulfill basic needs. Recent decades have also seen changes in the nature of ownership and management of these lands, away from traditional community-based systems of resource sharing toward more privatized forms which has resulted in more degraded, treeless lands. Arbitrary boundary demarcations, resource depletion and increasing pressures from internal and external markets have put strains on the traditional resource sharing mechanisms in the region. The Indian state has largely failed to support commonly held resources, instead providing the rich and more powerful with opportunities to appropriate formerly common resources. The fragility of the resource base has deepened the community dependence on the natural resource base, creating the conditions for over-exploitation out of the sheer survival instinct.

Reference Ecosystem Description

The ecosystems of the Aravalli range of hills in Southern Rajasthan is characterized by low rainfall and high temperature. The area is sub-tropical semi arid temperate forest. Traditionally, the natural resources in the were utilized for the bulk of the local communities’ livelihood ranging from agriculture, animal husbandry, to traditional forest uses and pasturage of animals. This allowed for the use of the land to provide for a diversity of useful timber and non-timber products, including grains, pulses, fruits, milk, meat, and eggs. The Aravalli hills are a humanized landscape, lands have been heavily impacted for thousands of years making it impossible to discern pre-disturbance conditions outside of these previously sustainable community systems.

Project Goals

To evaluate the project it is instructive to consider the condition of these communities. First, most families own some agricultural land (less than 1 hectare, on average) and are able to cultivate at least one crop per year. The main copping season is kharif (directly after the monsoon), in which the major crop is maize although a small proportion of farmers also cultivate a range of pulses. Annual crop rotation is uncommon. Some farmers, particularly those who are able to access irrigation but also those who have sufficient residual moisture in their fields, are able to take a second crop during the rabi season, wheat, often intercropped with gram or mustard, being the preferred cropping pattern. Less than 20% of the total area under cultivation is under some form of irrigation. An even smaller proportion of these farmers, and strictly under irrigated conditions, is able to take a third crop in the zaid season, consisting of vegetables, chillies, yam, turmeric, ginger and some fibre crops. These are important cash crops and are sold in markets in Udaipur and Gujarat. Overall, however, crop yields in Udaipur district are amongst the lowest in the state, suggesting that there may be considerable untapped potential for strengthening local agricultural livelihoods. Secondly, livestock density in Udaipur district is the highest in the state, with 88% of households being involved in animal husbandry. Most families own a few goats, sheep and a smaller number of cows, bullocks or buffalos, generally of a non-descript breed. The larger animals are used primarily for their contribution to agriculture in the form of manure and draft power. Milk and milk products from buffalos, cows and goats are largely consumed within the household. The scarcity of fodder and the poor quality of livestock lead to low productivity, thus limiting the viability of marketing. Sale of animal products remains minimal although sale of animals, especially goats, constitutes a critical part of local drought coping strategies. Thirdly, the Udaipur region has few marketable local crafts. As a result, there are scant village-based options for generating income. Non-farm livelihood options, however, particularly in the form of manual labour, form a critical component of the livelihood base, typically contributing to more than half of a household’s livelihood needs. A study conducted in 2003 revealed that the average annual income (including the value of agriculture and livestock production used for home consumption) of households in rural Udaipur district is around Rs.16,450, of which 24.2% comes from agricultural production and 19.4% from animal husbandry. While non-farm business and regular salaried employment are the major sources of income for the wealthiest 10%, the vast majority of the population is dependent on daily and seasonal migration for the larger share of their income. Finally, many young men and women, sometimes with their families, migrate to nearby cities and neighbouring states seeking opportunities for wage labour. Daily and seasonal migration has touched almost every family in the region. Many people work in the stone and marble mines of the state, often in deeply exploitative and hazardous health conditions. This also causes dislocation of family units and has a significant impact on the education and well-being of children. A recent study conducted in Seva Mandir’s work area revealed that almost 30% of adolescents migrate for labour for at least some part of the year and that, in doing so, they expose themselves to exploitative and high-risk work conditions, with female adolescents being particularly vulnerable. Especially women, who have always played a vital economic role through their domestic responsibilities, today are increasingly responsible for agricultural work and earning income through migration labour. Although increased representation in the labour force could be taken as a positive sign of women’s empowerment, the fact that real poverty is driving this trend suggests otherwise. Women tend to end up with dangerous jobs that are insecure, poorly-paid and offer little or no social security, generally faring worse than their male counterparts.

Seva Mandir targeted three specific areas for their work: Empowering People’s Insititutions, Strengthening human capabilities, and Strengthening livelihoods. The first area worked with communities to develop their governance and management capacity. The second area developed women’s groups, self-help groups, set up women’s resource centers, involved themselves in education centers on issues such as pregnancy health to children’s literacy, to health work and youth resource centers. The final area focused on ecological work that focused on plantation and pastureland development, watershed development, lift irrigation and waterharvesting, forest land protection, and the extension of irrigated agricultural land. This case study focuses on this ecological work.


The project does not have a monitoring plan.


While the Indian state has shown consistent support for outside interests, Seva Mandir sought to work on multiple levels, to support not only the community interests but also at the individual family level. The distortions of political policy on the ground abetted further encroachment on these lands and also limited both the physical lands available and the capacity of the community to work in a cohesive fashion. Seva Mandir sought to not only improve the access of these communities to common lands but to improve the organizational capacity of these communities to tackle the complexities and confusions of their situation.

Description of Project Activities:
Natural resource development has been one of Seva Mandir's longest standing programmes. In the early days, the focus was on developing individual wastelands since this was the easiest work and prepared communities for further discussion on common resources. Work on water resources was confined to anicuts (small masonry dams). The physical activities associated with these interventions provided direct, short-term benefits to people in the form of employment in addition to a stream of benefits in the form of fodder, fuel, crop production, and various ecological services. Gradually, this work led to an increased awareness at the community level of the importance of planting trees on degraded lands. In the Second Comprehensive Plan (1994-1999) the emphasis of work on wastelands shifted to group treatment, thereby imbuing ideas of collective action and making viable the treatment of even small areas of land. Gradually a number of common pasture sites were also enclosed and protected. The importance of addressing the overall land situation was soon recognised and the programmes scope expanded to address forestland more systematically. The appearance of Joint Forest Management made this easier. Coupled with a new emphasis on an integrated approach to watershed development, which entailed the preparation of micro-plans, this opened space for community identification of priorities. This placed a focus on governance structures and water resource development to make agriculture more productive. Accordingly, a range of specific governance bodies (forest protection committees, watershed development committees, lift irrigation committees) were created at the village level and the assistance of village level paraprofessionals was tapped. The integration of all villages at the community level was adopted as a key strategy to ensure a more sustainable and profound impact of the program. At present, core areas of work include afforestation, soil stabilization and erosion prevention, implementation of Lift Irrigation Systems, protection and management of pasturelands, construction of anicuts (small dams), and watershed management. The organization is also involved in the government-supported Joint Forest Management program, which encourages local communities to become involved in the protection and management of forests. It is hoped that these efforts, which consider land as the cornerstone of people's livelihoods, will result in not only increased productivity but also enhanced social solidarity. Given the heavily degraded condition of both private and common grazing lands in Seva Mandir's work area, ensuring the protection of these tracts under the appropriate community, group or individual management contributes directly to their increased productivity and the overall ecological stability of the region. Seva Mandir's afforestation and pastureland development programme is its most mature effort and includes both work on common lands and work on private lands. The organisation places a particular emphasis on common lands since these tend to cover a larger area, are effective rallying points for collective community action and are of greater importance to the more vulnerable sections of the population. Work undertaken on grazing lands includes fencing, soil and water conservation activities, digging pits, plantation and re-plantation, weeding and hoeing, and protection and management. By the end of the fifth comprehensive plan period, around 818 hectares of barren land will be afforested. Integrated watershed development Integrated watershed development is a critical dry-land development activity in the region. The primary objective of this program is to increase soil and water conservation, thereby increasing the productivity of the land. The integrated approach is initiated with soil and water conservation across the watershed, from the upper reaches to the lower reaches. Subsequently, plantations, grazing lands and various water management interventions are introduced. Community members undertake all the physical work, work is coordinated by their GVC. It has been planned to treat 1920 hectares of land under this programme by the end of the Fifth Comprehensive Plan. Forest Management Forest plantation and protection To address the severe degradation of forest lands, Seva Mandir brings communities and the state together through the Joint Forest Management scheme (guidelines issued in 1990), which involves local people, organised into Forest Protection Committees, in protecting and managing their forestlands in collaboration with the Forest Department. In return, communities are entitled to usufruct rights over Non Timber Forest Produce, fodder, fuelwood and a share of harvested timber. To date Seva Mandir has initiated work on some 15 JFM sites covering a total area of around 715 Ha. The Fifth Comprehensive Plan will entail continued efforts to bring more forest under community management through the JFM scheme. Since more than 24% of the forest lands in Seva Mandir's work area are under encroachment, an important element of the forest management interventions is to build institutional capacity at the community level for resolution of these encroachments through negotiation and persuasion. An Environment Fund has been established to support the village communities in their efforts at resolving these conflicting claims around the use of these lands. In addition to this work, the following activities form a critical component of forest protection: preparation of micro-plan and its approval from the forest department, survey and fencing, soil and water conservation activities, digging pits, plantation, re-plantation, weeding, hoeing, direct seeding, cultural operations, and protection and management. It is envisaged that 1280 Hectares of forest land will be treated under the JFM scheme. Rainwater Harvesting Structures Seva Mandir works with communities to construct rainwater harvesting structures (known as anicuts). These structures, essentially small dams, store rainwater over the course of the monsoon months and make it available for community use during the summer. Although the construction of anicuts was originally initiated primarily to provide a perennial source of drinking water for livestock and to increase soil moisture retention, anicuts are now also seen as playing an important role in increasing agricultural productivity, including the provision of irrigation. In addition, anicuts serve a number of domestic and recreational purposes and offer scope for upgradation to fisheries. Key activities undertaken in the construction of anicuts include: selection of potential sites along with the local community, technical survey of potential sites, meetings with village communities and organising participatory rural appraisals, designing structures in consultation with the local community, baseline survey of water levels in the zone of influence, and working out community systems for management of the facilities, including sharing of water and maintenance. It has been proposed to create 6 anicuts during the Fifth Comprehensive Plan. Irrigation systems The installation of Lift Irrigation Systems (LIS), which consist of either electric or diesel pumps installed on wells and linked to fields through various pipes and distribution chambers, has become an important livelihood intervention. At present Seva Mandir has worked with communities to establish 27 such systems. The LIS provide farmers whose land lies in the catchment area with access to irrigation for up to three seasons in the year, subject to availability of and demand for water available in the well. A village level management system is created and operated by a committee to ensure that there is an equitable distribution of water amongst the participating families. In general, lift irrigation systems are only established in those locations where comprehensive land treatment has been undertaken. 4 LISs will be established over the course of the Fifth Comprehensive Plan. Drinking Water Facilities Whilst Seva Mandir has addressed issues of drinking water in the past, it has done so primarily during periods of severe drought. Accessibility of drinking water, however, continues to present problems in a number of areas, particularly during the driest months of the year. As such, an important and somewhat new part of the natural resource management programme will involve building the capacity of village institutions to design, implement and maintain community drinking water supply systems. This will entail three major components: (i) taking advantage of relevant government schemes (e.g. Swajaldhara Scheme); (ii) on a need basis installing, repairing and training people to repair hand-pumps; (iii) facilitating the storage of drinking water or roof-top rainwater harvesting structures, according to the feasibility of the site. This new area of emphasis will help Seva Mandir to promote a more holistic approach to water management at the community level. In addition to this, it will cater increasingly to the needs of women. Agricultural Extension and Animal Husbandry The productivity of agricultural systems are largely dependent on the quality of the natural resource base, the depth and nutrient content of the soil, the availability of moisture. As such, Seva Mandir pursues agricultural extension primarily in those areas where comprehensive land treatment has been initiated, the main objective being to generate economic benefits from the ecological restoration of the natural resource base. In addition to this, efforts will be made to systematically address issues of livestock health and production through various cattle camps and extension exercises. The above activities will be tailored according to the conditions under which agriculture is being practiced. Two major categories of agricultural development will be addressed: (1) irrigated; and (2) un-irrigated. Under irrigated conditions, largely those sites where lift irrigation systems have been installed, a range of activities including horticulture, vegetable cultivation and vermicompost are being introduced. In addition to this, systematic efforts will be made to facilitate the transfer of non-input-intensive production technologies from research centres to farmers. Under un-irrigated conditions, which constitute by far the greatest proportion of agricultural activity, linkages with agricultural research and extension agencies will also be pursued with a thrust on enhancing the productivity of field crops, exploring opportunities for enhancing the productivity of marginal lands through horti-pasture activities and enhancing livestock production practices according to dry-land conditions.

Ecological Outcomes Achieved

Eliminate existing threats to the ecosystem:
While addressing the acute degradation of the natural resource base, both to restore ecological stability and enhance the productivity of the natural resource base remains paramount, Seva Mandir's work on livelihoods extends beyond these issues. It is now clear to Seva Mandir that the issue of property relations has to be addressed. Without this, people will not be able to gain autonomy and agency to build solidarity for collective action. Natural resources, Seva Mandir has learned, have immense social value. They serve as a locus for creating greater social cohesion and community empowerment in the villages and are not merely economic assets. In addition to this, it has been found that natural resource based interventions have other returns such as improvements in children's education status and more favourable terms of migration (i.e. a reduced prevalence of distress migration).

Socio-Economic & Community Outcomes Achieved

Economic vitality and local livelihoods:
The focus of the program had been on placing greater emphasis on the implementation of physical interventions, resulting in large swathes of land being treated under dry land management, watershed development, and forest management. While these efforts have proved challenging, where they have been successful they have contributed profoundly to transformation within the community, leading to greater cohesion and the recognition of interdependence. As these efforts have matured, the program has started shifting increasingly towards enhancing the productivity of these natural resources and linking them more closely to people's livelihood systems. The future work of the Natural Resource Development program will build on this transition, helping villagers to use both created and restored natural resources, from irrigation systems to pasturelands, to live their life in a more secure and dignified manner.

Long-Term Management

Seva Mandir’s primarly work will continue to be on common lands and to build community solidarity through this work. At least 50% of the work on land is proposed to be on common lands. Securing collective entitlements is understood to be a critical element. Work on establishing clear property rights, including the resolution of illicit privatisations of public lands through negotiations at the community level and work towards the implementation of Joint Forest Management, pastureland and watershed development programmes. There will also be work towards increasing community access to natural resources for optimising development benefits in an equitable manner. Finally, it is essential to enhance the capability of village institutions and their federations, to implement and sustain work on natural resources for higher economic returns as well as inform the dialogue on issues and concerns around natural resources at the policy level.

Sources and Amounts of Funding

Seva Mandir is funded by a host of national and international institutions, corporations and individuals. Some of its primary funding agencies are Interchurch Organization for Development Co-operation (ICCO – The Netherlands), Evangelischer Entwicklungsdienst (EED – Germany), Canada India Village Aid (CIVA), Plan International, Ford Foundation, Sir Dorabji Tata Trust, McArthur Foundation, Paul Hamlyn Foundation, National Foundation for India, and Association for India Development. Seva Mandir also collaborates with the Government of India and Government of Rajasthan. Significant corporate collaborations include those with Devigarh Hotel, Hindustan Zinc Limited, The Rajasthan Chamber of Commerce and Industries, etc.

Other Resources

Neelima Khetan,”¨Chief Executive”¨Mohan Sinha Mehta Marg”¨Old Fatehpura,”¨Udaipur, Rajasthan 313004″¨India”¨+91 294 2450960″¨Email:

Primary Contact

Organizational Contact